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Insect numeracy standards overtake KS2

In what must surely now be described as a classic maths news item, yet another species of animal has joined the ranks of things which can determine rank. This time it’s the humble fruit fly’s turn to tap its hoof the correct number of times, as these articles in The Metro and Nature (the two standard science references for their respective ends of the credibility spectrum) describe. Props to The Metro for an excellent headline pun.

The study being described is one in which different numbers of flashes of light were shown to a box of flies, and when the number of flashes was two or four, the box was shaken using an electric toothbrush immediately afterwards. For three flashes, no shaking occurred and over a number of generations, the fruit flies developed the ability to predict when shaking would happen and brace themselves accordingly.

“The findings back up the theory that numerical skills such as mental arithmetic are ancient constructs”, says The Metro, while Nature admits that “The researchers caution that the work is preliminary and that they do yet know what genetic changes are behind the insects’ evolved number sense.” All I can say is I’m looking forward to the follow-up paper, in which the fruit flies prove a result from Ergodic theory.

Sources:
Flea times table as scientists teach insects how to count (The Metro)
Fruit flies evolve number sense (Nature)

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